Ashly Orlikowski Orlikowski 1
May 03, 2018
An Ethical Dilemma
“The Use of Force” is a powerful short story by William Carlos Williams that leaves the readers with an ethical dilemma. With a horrible sickness that has spread throughout the city, Mathilda’s parents are very concerned that she has been sick for a few days. The Doctor is summoned to a house call with a family whom he had no prior contact with to help diagnose their daughter. With a fight to get a good look at Mathilda ‘s throat, there the Doctor had used force to get a diagnosis. What compels the use of force isn’t simply altruism; there a dark side that persists in every individual. The girl has been defeated but now her life has been saved from potential death. The Doctor’s forcefulness with the child and parents revels an overpowering effect, with his creepy and kinky behaviors against Mathilda that have sexual undertone.
A forceful person presents him/herself to be strong and assertive, vigorous and powerful. Many parts of this story show the Doctor’s bad behavior with the use of forcefulness. In the beginning, the Doctor is polite asking questions as he should to get proper information on what has been going on with his patient, as she is new. Mathilda seems to be very distressed and does not wish to cooperate. As the Doctor’s patience wears thin with Mathilda and her parents, he becomes forceful: “Put her in front of you on your lap, I ordered, and hold both her wrists.” (par. 24). As the father does what the doctor has asked of him, the child screams with fear and discomfort. The Doctor goes on to say, “Come on now, hold her.” (par. 28). After goes on to say,
“I grasped the child’s head with my left hand and tried to get the wooden tongue depressor between her teeth. She fought, with clenched teeth. She fought, with clenched teeth, desperately!” (par. 29). The compelling feeling towards his young sick patient is a representation of forcefulness. The splintered tongue depressor is a contextual symbol of the Doctor’s tolerance level. However, once the wooded depressor is broken so is the doctor, which is when is asks for a spoon.
As the Doctor exercises a very over powering authority with his profession—in an almost assaulting way. He becomes overpowering thus is extremely strong or intense—overwhelming. He states, “Get me a smooth handled spoon of some sort, I told the mother. We’re going through with this” (par. 31). He then goes on to say “In a final unreasoning assault I overpowered the child’s neck and jaws. I forced the heavy silver spoon back of her teeth and down her throat till she gagged” (par. 33). Such an over powering attitude has made him seem almost abusive and to enjoy hurting her as he did. As he says, “I could have torn the child apart in my own fury and enjoyed it” (par. 31). The spoon represents the overpowering aggression he feels towards the child as he fails the first time with the wooden tongue depressor.
The sexual undertones the Doctor displays towards Mathilda is unethical. The doctor acknowledges early the physical attractiveness toward the child thus his remarks about her is almost borderline pedophilia. “An unusually attractive little thing, and as strong as a heifer in appearance” (par. 4) and later, “After all, I had already fallen in love with the savage brat, the parents were contemptible to me” (par. 22). With the child’s parents already nervously concerned, dependent on and yet distrustful of the doctor, yet could this element have been avoided if the patient was a boy? The examination becomes an assault, which shows there are clear sexual undertone acts against the child.
He falls in love with her ability to battle him until the end, where then she feels defeated. The child’s beauty and penetrating stare make an immediate impression on him, as he states, “The child was fairly eating me up with her cold, steady eyes, and no expression to her face whatever” (par. 4). She fought as he was trying to look in the back of her throat to make sure she was not sick with the horrible sickness that was going around. As she screams with fear when he attempts to get a good look, “She fights, with clenched teeth, desperately! But now I also had grown furious—at a child. I tried to hold myself down, but I couldn’t” (par. 29). The aggression the Doctor has toward Mathilda takes on characteristics that he is getting pleasure out of this. As he finally was able to get a look at her throat, Mathilda feels defeated: “Now truly she was furious. She had been on the defensive before but now she attacked. Tried to get off her father’s lap and fly at me while tears of defeat blinded her eyes.” (par. 34).
In conclusion, the moral of the story is obvious that he was there to help his patient. But is also clear that many unethical remarks and behaviors have been made. Yes, he has seen many children with diphtheria that have passed, and Mathilda has been lying to her parents long enough the Doctor needs to know what is wrong with her before it is too late. However, the doctor emerges as sympathetic and keen to human behavior, which is the characteristic that we all know about a good doctor, however prejudiced and undeniably blunt.
Axelrod, Rise B, and Charles R. Cooper. The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing 11th Edition. Boston, New York. Print.